POPULAR Victorian car dealer and partner in HFH Auto Group, Geoff Harris, who spent most of his working life selling Toyotas, has died aged 65.
Mr Harris started in the industry selling cars in the early 1970s for Southern Motors and started at Essendon Toyota in 1977 with Josh Sady.
It was his first relationship with Toyota that endured for his career and was reflected by the attendance at his funeral last week of so many Toyota executives.
He joined Brian Wood at Camberwell in 1982 and after Geoff bought into the business in 1983, it became Harris Wood Toyota.
In 1996, Mr Harris and Ross Freer, who knew each other as fellow Toyota dealers, teamed up to buy a Toyota dealership in Berwick which, in those days, was a small dealership in what was then a rural fringe suburb in Melbourne’s east. Many of the original employees at Berwick Toyota are still with the business after 25 years.
They later acquired Coburg Toyota (now Anthony Smith Toyota).
In 2007, current managing director Jonathan Hardwick joined the group. Sam Freer, Ross Freer’s son, who is now the general manager of Berwick and Pakenham Toyota, also joined the business.
Then Geoff Harris and Ross Freer traded in Berwick as Harris Freer Toyota until the name was changed to Berwick Toyota in 2010. That same year Pakenham Toyota was built. This was the first dealership built out in the newly-created Pakenham industrial area which now is a thriving car retailing hub.
In 2013 the original Harris Freer group acquired Berwick Volkswagen and David Nutter Ford (renamed Berwick Ford). In 2015 the company opened Berwick Jaguar Land Rover and formed the HFH Auto Group (Harris Freer Hardwick).
HFH now owns and operates Berwick Toyota, Berwick Ford, Berwick Jaguar Land Rover, Berwick Volkswagen, Pakenham Toyota and Launceston Toyota, Audi, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Jeep, Honda and BMW.
HFH is now run by Sam Freer, the son of founding partner Ross Freer, and Jonathon Hardwick.
Sam Freer said it was sad that his business partner and friend had died.
“Geoff had many friends in the automotive industry and was well regarded by all,” he said.
“His funeral last Monday was well attended by many car dealers and Toyota executives past and present,” Mr Freer said
Mr Harris died on March 17 after a battle with cancer. He leaves his wife Helen and daughters Kate, Sara, Emily and Claire.
By Neil Dowling